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'Being prepared' – AWS cloud solution for Priceline

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The global travel company Priceline, part of Booking Holidays, experienced a three-times increase in call volume at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. As thousands of travellers flooded the customer contact centre to cancel or rebook their itineraries, wait times to speak to an agent became excessively long.

For a traditional contact centre, this would have been an insurmountable challenge, but because Priceline had already used Amazon Web Services (AWS) to create a modern cloud contact centre solution using Amazon Connect – an omnichannel cloud contact centre – the company was prepared.

Priceline was able to handle the spike in demand by rerouting calls and quickly implementing new features to reduce backlogs. The solution also enabled Priceline’s agents to work safely from home without sacrificing quality customer service, and positioned Priceline to continue to provide exceptional service in the long run.

Seeking a more efficient solution

Priceline has expanded and evolved; it became clear that its hardwired on-premises telephony system was not flexible enough to meet the company’s needs.

Priceline ran its interactive voice response itself, and contracted with business process outsourcing companies to provide contact centre agents across five different call distributors.

“Our previous contact centre was stretched across multiple systems, which meant we needed an entire team just to distribute traffic”, says Jennifer Featherling, senior director of contact centre technology at Priceline.

“We were unable to quickly pivot, and changes could take weeks, meaning we needed a road map for even the slightest adjustments.”

In April 2019 Priceline began taking calls in its modern contact centre solution based around the Amazon Connect service, which provides one set of tools for routing, task management, real time and historical analytics, and intuitive management.

Responding quickly to crises

The new infrastructure enabled Priceline to provide more efficient customer service by optimising its menu options and automating callback queues to cut back on wait time.

Had Priceline still been operating on an on-premises system, the customer care centre would have shut down when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and in-office operations ceased.

On-premises contact centres require hardware configuration and licences to scale to meet demand. Making updates to interactive voice response and routing could take months, and multiple vendor interactions. And agents would have had to stay in the office to answer calls, jeopardising their safety.

Amazon Connect facilitates switch to remote working

But using the cloud-based Amazon Connect, Priceline could shift to working remotely without impacting agents’ abilities to address customers’ needs efficiently – even with the spike in volume.

“It enabled us to respond more quickly than ever”, says Ms Featherling.

“Over 1,000 agents could work from home and continue using Amazon Connect – all they needed were a laptop and a headset. And we could introduce queued callbacks for our customers.”

Holding back the flood of requests to deliver solutions

With only 20 minutes of work, Priceline could also prioritise customers who were supposed to travel sooner, while offering to those with travel dates further out an automated path to resolving their issues.

The ease of implementation enabled Priceline to stay ahead of an influx of calls during the COVID-19 pandemic, and continues to enable the agency to help customers navigate unforeseen circumstances – such as the Feb-2021 snowstorm that left much of Texas without power.

“Between snowstorms, hurricanes, and other regular events not related to the COVID-19 pandemic, we can easily make adjustments when needed to quickly address widespread travel interruptions”, says Ms Featherling.

Optimising costs and the customer experience

Amazon Connect enables Priceline to predict customer needs better and adjust and adapt to provide enhanced customer service.

Surveys reveal Priceline customers’ preference for the efficiency of the callback queue, insisting that Priceline keep it, even when the agency isn’t experiencing excessive wait times. And its optimised interactive voice response menu has made it simpler for customers to communicate exactly what they want to do quickly and efficiently.

Changes to that menu are now as simple as typing a message into Amazon Polly – a service that turns text into lifelike speech, available to Amazon Connect users.

Removing the need for a developer to implement these day-to-day changes has enabled Priceline developers to focus on the bigger picture, according to Ms Featherling. She says: “It frees them to focus on innovating – on how to improve the life of the traveller and of the agent.”

The consumption-based pricing model for AWS solutions also enables Priceline to optimise costs by paying only for what it uses.

“The pay-as-you-go model lets us scale up when we’re seeing higher volume and scale back down when the volume is less”, says Ms Featherling.

Moving forward on AWS

Moving forward, Priceline is expanding its use of AWS to include an interactive chat agent that makes it simple to monitor and use AWS resources in Slack channels and Amazon Chime chat rooms. Priceline will also be deploying chat for agent-to-agent interactions.

This service enables agents to meet customers’ needs without transferring them to other agents for different tasks, such as pricing or rebooking. Instead of tying up two agents on one call, one agent could reach out to the other by chat for the information they need.

The travel company is also exploring features such as Contact Lens for Amazon Connect, which would enable it to better understand the sentiment and trends of customer conversations to identify crucial feedback. Through the service’s real time capabilities, supervisors can deliver proactive assistance to agents while calls are in progress, further improving customer service.

The sustainable solution

Migrating to Amazon Connect enabled Priceline to function efficiently, despite facing challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic. Automated functions have freed up Priceline’s developers to innovate in response to an ever-changing world.

“We spend a lot of time providing service for our customers”, says Ms Featherling.

“And not once have we asked ourselves, ‘Can our contact centre infrastructure handle this?’ We know that using Amazon Connect enables us to provide enhanced customer service.”